Go on any of the job posting sites, pick up a job description or talk to any manager and they all have a common theme…that top-notch communication skills are required.
In fact, communication skills rank as the all-time most in-demand soft skill that literally every company wants. What’s curious is that while all companies want superior communication skills from their new hires and current employees, most leaders and managers in those companies lack.
Communication requires thought, proper messaging and genuine caring about the person you are speaking to. What do I see within many companies, leaders who bark orders, provide minimal information, browbeat when mistakes happen or perhaps the worst sin of all…not communicating at all (the proverbial ignore it and hope it gets better syndrome).
What does it mean to be a leader who has mastered communication skills?
I’ve provided my thoughts on what is required to actually communicate, not simply talk about the importance of communication below.
Create a safe workplace environment for communication:
Employees will not open up to you if they feel vulnerable and there will be retribution for sharing their thoughts or concerns. They have to feel free to express their opinions, ideas and feelings or else they will close down.
Make sure your message is clear:
How often I hear phrases like “I told them…”, “What I asked for and what I received are completely different”, “They simply didn’t listen to me…”. More often than managers want to think, they are the problem, not the employee. They aren’t specific enough about their expectations or provide too little information or they assume the other person understood. As a manager, if you are delivering information about a project or situation you need to be handled, clarity and specificity are critical if you want the results to be spot on.
Have the difficult conversation:
Managers often avoid the difficult conversations. You know the ones I am talking about…job performance issues, critiquing their work, discussions on inappropriate behavior, comments or anything else…those conversations often avoided altogether and handled poorly when they take place. I had a manager tell me he tries not to have these conversations because he has woman employees who cry and he doesn’t know how to handle that. Really?
Remember your job as their manager is to coach and mentor them, which includes helping them perform better and communicating to them what’s working, what’s not and what you want different.
Praise isn’t just at the annual review:
Praise shouldn’t just happen behind closed doors during their annual review. You don’t need to gush all over them every time they do their job well, that’s what they are paid to do. Leaders often though miss key opportunities to acknowledge their employees for going above and beyond or handling a presentation or meeting extraordinarily well or finding a way to save the company money (however small the amount) or coming up with a novel idea…whatever those seemingly little things are that deserve recognition.
Someone who works over a holiday while with their family to complete a project needs to be thanked. Acknowledge others for their success and what the impact it made to the department or company, and acknowledge publicly. Everyone wants to hear “good job”, “thanks for handling”, “your idea on…saved us hundreds of dollars”. Don’t overlook the opportunity to praise when appropriate, and praise publicly.
Be available, physically and your presence:
Companies are demanding more of everyone. Between business travel, meetings, events/conferences and situations that pull leaders out of their office it’s no wonder that spending time with employees takes a back seat. And half the time when they are sitting across the desk you are not fully present.
A single piece of advice, be present for others.
When they have questions, concerns, need information and you don’t have time for them it’s not only off-putting, it creates a distance between you and them (real and imagined) that affects performance, happiness and tenure. Don’t cancel, reschedule and cancel again meetings with them. Open your door whenever possible, walk outside your office and connect with others, and for sure when they email, text or call and ask for your time, make sure you give it to them ASAP.
Communication is two-way. Somehow managers think their voice is the most important one. Your position on the org chart does not make you the MVP in the room. Communication to be effective can’t be one-way. Give others the room to express their opinion or ask questions or whatever needs to take place. What’s the fastest way to run off employees? Close down communication between them and your voice is the only one that is able to be heard.
If you want your employees to have superior communication skills it starts with you the leader paying attention to your own communications skills.
What you say, how you say it when you say it, and what you don’t say have a huge impact on communication and creating the team/business you want. It’s easy to point to others and assume the problem is them.
When it comes to communication first look at yourself and ask yourself do you have the communication skills you want in others. Then take the time to work on your own communications skills to model for others what you want from them.